The future European fighter jet rolls back onto its runway pending the endorsement of the commitment in Madrid

President Macron and Chancellor Scholz impose to unblock the European FCAS fighter jet

photo_camera PHOTO/Elisée - French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have forced the unblocking of Europe's largest ever defence industrial programme, although the German lacks the Bundestag's blessing.

At last! The mega-project for the air combat system of the future under development by the governments of Berlin, Madrid and Paris, the FCAS, is back on the runway after being blocked for around 17 months in no man's land. 

This is after the French company Dassault Aviation and the German company Airbus Defence and Space GmbH - the two companies in charge of the project on behalf of the German and French governments - have held countless telematic and face-to-face meetings to resolve their serious disagreements. 

The ultimatum to put an end to the bad blood between the negotiating teams, reach an industrial agreement and continue along the path of shared work was set for the end of the year, as both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had said last October.

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By mutual agreement, the two politicians had no choice but to postpone the bilateral Franco-German summit in Fontainebleau scheduled for 26 October until 2023, in order to arrive at the meeting with the homework done on the NGWS/FCAS project, which is the full acronym for Next Generation Weapon System/Future Combat Air System. 

The demand made by Macron and Scholz to the two companies leaves no room for doubt. The manufacturer of the famous Falcon aircraft and Rafale fighters, the veteran CEO of Dassault Aviation, Eric Trappier - about to turn 63 - and the young Michael Schoellhorn, head of Germany's Airbus Defence and Space GmbH, were to bury the hatchet. And, above all, to agree on the terms of phase 1B of the FCAS, which, because of the Franco-German quarrel, has gone from aiming to have a demonstrator aircraft in flight by 2028 to trying to achieve it by 2029. 

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A ceremony in Madrid in 2023

"It has not been easy," confirm Spanish sources close to the FCAS. The most visible problem has revolved around the intellectual property of the flight controls, which Dassault leads and is not willing to share.  But given the strategic importance of the project, "there has been a total willingness to reconcile the interests of both parties at any price... with nuances".  

The Franco-German industrial reconciliation is focused on undertaking work on the aircraft's platform - which interests Dassault - and its engines - which affects MTU and Safran - has been welcomed by the German, Spanish and French Defence Ministers, Christine Lambrecht, Margarita Robles and Sébastien Lecornu, respectively. All of them pointed out in their official statements that the scenario where the re-launch of the FCAS project will be visualised will take place in Madrid, on a date that has not yet been announced. 

The joint communiqué from Airbus, Dassault and Indra - which is the Spanish industrial coordinator - emphasises that this is "a major step forward" and applauds the determination of the governments of Berlin, Madrid and Paris to develop a "powerful, innovative and fully European" weapon system that meets the operational needs of the armed forces of the three countries. 

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It stresses that the negotiations of recent months have made it possible to "create a solid basis for cooperation between industry and the three governments", while reiterating their firm commitment to making the FCAS programme "the armed wing of Europe's strategic autonomy, thanks to the reinforcement of the operational, technological and industrial sovereignty of its defence". 

What does the agreement entail? Well, the French Directorate General for Armaments, which acts as the contracting authority for the governments of Berlin, Madrid and Paris, awarded the contract for phase 1B of the FCAS on 15 December to Dassault Aviation, Airbus Germany and Spain, Indra and the EUMET consortium. It means disbursing the first tranche of a contract worth more than 3 billion euros for 36 months of activities. 8 billion if the optional phase 2, which runs until 2029, is included. 

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Repercussions for the Spanish defence industry

Each of the three countries contributes 33% of the funding and their industries receive an equivalent percentage of the workload. In their joint communiqué, Airbus, Dassault and Indra say that this is a "historic contract" and specify that the value of the contract "is for 3.2 billion euros", which will cover work "on the FCAS demonstrator and its components for about three and a half years", i.e. around 42 months. 

The exact text of the agreement is not known, but it is known that it contains two essential confirmations. The first is that, as Berlin and Paris had already agreed in July 2017, it is clear that the French state will exercise full and complete management control over the project. The second reaffirms that Dassault is the hegemonic prime contractor and industrial "leader" - according to the French Ministry of Defence - for the development of the sixth-generation European stealth fighter.  

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As the national industrial coordinator of the NGWS/FCAS programme, Indra is the main Spanish company to benefit from the FCAS release and its CEO, Ignacio Mataix, stated that "I am proud to think that Indra will participate, on an equal footing, with Dassault Aviation and Airbus Defence and Space GmbH in the design of this innovative weapon system".  

In addition to its role as coordinator in the trilateral programme, Indra is the tri-national prime contractor for Sensors, which involves France's Thales and the German FCMS consortium of Hensoldt, Diehl, ESG and Rohde & Schwarz. In the Combat Cloud pillar, it is a national leader, working with Airbus Defence and Space GmbH and Thales on the joint development of the System of Systems concept, which enables unprecedented collaborative capabilities between connected platforms. 

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What about the powerplants of the future fighter? The Spanish engine manufacturer ITP Aero is leading the national component, but it has been displaced from the centre of the issue. In February 2019, the then German and French Defence Ministers Ursula von der Leyen and Florence Parly pushed for France's Safran Aircraft Engines and Germany's MTU Aero Engines to join forces.  

As a result, EUMET - an acronym for EUropean Military Engine Team - was formed in April 2021 to take over and develop the engines for the FCAS, a 50/50 Franco-German joint venture to design, develop, manufacture and support the engine for the future European fighter. ITP Aero is therefore outside of EUMET and subject to the more or less significant workload that the consortium has chosen to assign to it. 

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